MANY, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – You can find living history and many community members that have lived through significant historical events across Northwest Louisiana.

Just three months shy of his 100th birthday, Jesse Mahaffey relives his time during World War II. Mahaffey now resides in Many, Louisiana, surrounded by community members. But before that, he survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.

According to Mahaffey, his military journey began in May 1941 after graduating from Florien High School.

“The day I got out of high school in Florien, Louisiana. Me and two little boys took us a whole day to get to Shreveport.”

Mahaffey and his friends created a master plan to hitchhike from Florien to Shreveport to join the Navy. Unfortunately, they arrived too little too late to register.

“We didn’t have any money. We went to the station, and they said it was too late for us to do anything. Come back tomorrow.”

So, they stayed overnight at a police station. The following morning, they enlisted in the United States Navy. He says they were walking along the sidewalk when a police officer picked them up.

Shortly after joining, Jesse went to San Diego for boot camp training with one of his friends. After his training, he boarded the USS Oklahoma.

“He was placed inside the city office, and I was put on a battleship in Oklahoma,” said Mahaffey.

Salvage Crews on the deck of the U.S.S. Oklahoma
This salvage crew is on the deck of the USS Oklahoma, which sunk on the night of the attack. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The USS Oklahoma made its way to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Soon after, during an inspection, the unimaginable happened to the ship.

“Then I got sunk on Dec. 7. First, it all started with Oklahoma. It was easy. She gradually rolled over, and we slid off the bottom of it,” said Mahaffey.

Three torpedos hit the ship soon after the attack started. Two more struck the vessel as it began to capsize. As the battleship overturned, some crew members became trapped inside a few surviving air pockets. They remained there until air rescuers could cut holes in the bottom to rescue them.

Jesse spent about five years serving in the United States Army.

“Right out of High School ’41 and stayed in the war was over in ’45.”

Not only did he survive the Pearl Harbor bombing, but he also survived the sinking of the USS Northampton in the Battle of Tassafaronga. On Nov. 30, 1942, the Northampton was struck by two Japanese torpedoes, tearing a hole through the port side and destroying decks and bulkheads. Destroyers rescued most of the crew within an hour. However, 50 crewmen died when the heavy cruiser sank.

He says he’s very thankful he made it out alive, but some of his best memories were off the ship.

“We got to go ashore, off the ship, to try and find a pretty little lady,” he said.

Mr. Mahaffey will turn 100 years old on Nov. 23, 2022.